Elitism in Buddhism?

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Elitism in Buddhism?

Postby Lana_L » Mon Jun 18, 2012 4:39 pm

Hi all. I'm new to Buddhism, new to the forum, and have a sincere, genuine question to ask. I fear that this may come across as inflammatory so please know that this is not my intent.

I was raised as a Christian, lived the beginning of my adult life as an agnostic, and within the past two years or so have become increasingly drawn to Buddhism. My struggle? I don't know if there's any gentle way to say this, so I'll just say it - I've found a lot of real or perceived (by me) snobbery in the local Buddhist community. Granted, I do live in an area where one doesn't generally show up to yoga class without a $200 pair of designer yoga pants, but I still expected actual Buddhist sitting groups to be free of this attitude. Then again, I'm wondering if it's just culture shock on my part as I'm used to the very different attitude of the Christian churches I grew up in.

To give more specific examples, my first exposure to Buddhism was two years ago at a presentation on mindfulness and stress presented by some local practitioners. The distinct vibe I got was "There are stupid questions. And some of you are asking them." Maybe understandable if this had been an experienced group (I think I asked something very non-Buddhist, like how mindfulness could help us compete in the workplace) but for a newbie it was hurtful to get an "I think I just swallowed a bug. Seriously?" face in response to a misguided query. I chalked it up to me being new and saying the wrong things.

Lately I've joined a sitting group and am getting a vibe that The Path is actually a 10K, with everyone marking their own progress. I've been told (gently, I'll say that) not to participate in a couple of central programs / classes because I'm not ready, it wouldn't be a good fit for me at this point, etc. Sometimes I think this is due to people getting a bit proprietal (as in, they want you to stay a newbie because they like being the semi-guru figure that the newbies come to, you being an equal is not attractive,) and sometimes I think it's because I don't present myself in the manner that people feel a Buddhist "should". This will sound cynical and I am sorry, but I've observed you have to dress a certain way, talk a certain way (for women, usually in a drawn out, breathy voice,) and use certain buzz words to be looked upon as someone who has made "progress". I feel guilty saying this, but it seems very phony to me.

Anyways, my point in posting this is not to point fingers and say "Do you see how mean these Buddhists are to me!" Rather, I thought getting an opinion from a wider group might give me a better perspective. Perhaps many people have these experiences and it's a phenomenon to watch out for. Perhaps I'm just unfamiliar with the structure of Buddhism and need to shift my perspective a bit.

While I haven't been to church since I was a kid, I can't help but remember the very open door policy there. In fact, if you were a drug addict, alcoholic, or in some way spiritually off track, you might be the most welcome. In Buddhist practice, I see more of a subtle closed door policy - certain things should only be available to those who are far enough down the Path, and your fellow practitioners will judge who that is. I've read that Buddhism was actually created for an elite few who were karmically ready for enlightenment and not for the average Jane. At this point I'm thinking of setting the community piece aside for awhile and practicing solo. Thoughts? Advice?
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Re: Elitism in Buddhism?

Postby Seishin » Mon Jun 18, 2012 4:57 pm

There was a lot in that post so please forgive me if I miss something; :smile:

Buddhist groups are made up of humans and are therefore susceptible to being a**holes. Being a Buddhist (even for a long time) doesn't make you a nice person. That takes a lot of practice. I had been to a number of groups before I found one that I felt followed the Dharma so do not fret. But please watch out for any dubious groups. Sadly Buddhism is a magnet for them as it's all kind of new (even though it's been around in the west for a LONG time!) Some people can become attached to "form" and outer appearance as being "Buddhist". Some places can be a bit cult-y. But don't let that put you off. There are some great Buddhist centres out there. The good people here can help you find one.

Also, Buddhists do tend to speak in another language :tongue: My wife noticed it when she first came along with me to one of our meetings and didn't have a clue what we were talking about, so the looks might not have been "stupid question" but a simple misunderstanding. But who knows :shrug:

And I have to say, as with all group dynamics there will always be misunderstanding or misinterpretation. They might have misunderstood your question or you might have misunderstood the topic etc.

I wish you luck with your path.
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Re: Elitism in Buddhism?

Postby LastLegend » Mon Jun 18, 2012 5:02 pm

I personally don't associate myself with any particular Buddhist group. I find that works for me.
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must not be afraid of losing your bodies and your lives―
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Re: Elitism in Buddhism?

Postby Sherab Dorje » Mon Jun 18, 2012 5:06 pm

Not that I doubt what happened to you, I've seen it a million times (in Dharma groups) and it drives me nuts too, but what tradition do the groups you went/are going to belong to? I mean, are you sure they are Buddhist groups? I, for example, used to run "mindfulness and stress management" courses but they were not part of a Buddhist practice group or lineage (though they were based in Buddhist mindfulness techniques). Again not that it doesn't happen in Buddhist groups, it definitely 100% does, but... I'm just trying to clarify the situation somewhat.
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Meditation and conduct become delusion,
One will not attain the real result
One will be like a blind man who has no eyes."
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Re: Elitism in Buddhism?

Postby Seishin » Mon Jun 18, 2012 5:24 pm

Lana_L wrote:While I haven't been to church since I was a kid, I can't help but remember the very open door policy there. In fact, if you were a drug addict, alcoholic, or in some way spiritually off track, you might be the most welcome. In Buddhist practice, I see more of a subtle closed door policy - certain things should only be available to those who are far enough down the Path, and your fellow practitioners will judge who that is. I've read that Buddhism was actually created for an elite few who were karmically ready for enlightenment and not for the average Jane. ....


No, what they're saying is not everyone will "get it", and it's not everyone's cup of tea. You won't see Buddhists knocking on your door asking if you've read the good books (sutras and suttas) that's because we recognise that not everyone likes Buddhist doctrine, some like Christianity or Jainism or Native American Shamism and that's not a bad thing. :twothumbsup:

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Re: Elitism in Buddhism?

Postby duckfiasco » Mon Jun 18, 2012 6:37 pm

If Buddhism were not meant for everyone, the Buddha wouldn't have given thousands and thousands of teachings to people of all stripes and stages in their lives :) If you suffer in any way, there's something here for you.

Because it's such a different way of looking at the world, some ideas or practices may necessitate certain building blocks, like taking algebra before you try calculus. Or basic math if you have to! I can see how it may appear exclusive, but it's really to try to avoid wasting someone's time or worse, causing them harm or increasing their delusion. It's why, to use myself as an example, knowing the ins and outs of dependent origination or all about the oddities of perception, that's simply not relevant yet. I've had to tell myself lots of times, "It really doesn't matter" and get back to practicing what is within reach. Slowly, your reach expands.

I've been practicing alone for a year. I've tried four or five different centers. Yesterday even, I went to a Kagyu center and I'm not sure it was to my liking. There were at least 50 people all crammed into a small house, and I didn't feel welcome like I did at a local Zen priory. My point is, finding a sangha or practice community is different for everyone. Some may luck out. Others may spend years searching. Right now, my sangha is my cats and a simple altar with the Buddha, Chenrezig, and Green Tara. Good people :P

If I can't find a sangha, or if someone appears X Y or Z way, it's really no big deal. I'll just keep sitting on my cushion at home. If that goes away, I have my mala beads with me. If those go away, I have my breath. If that goes away, I'm sure I'll find something.

Everything, everywhere, and everyone is practice. Practice how you can, do your best, and don't sweat it :)

Welcome, too! :cheers: :thumbsup: :namaste:
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Re: Elitism in Buddhism?

Postby Lana_L » Mon Jun 18, 2012 8:42 pm

Thanks everyone. I feel like I have a better perspective on this now. Usually my intuition is very good and I tend to trust it (in this case, it was telling me this was not the right group for me,) but I was wondering if I had a warped perspective on what Buddhism "should" be like based on growing up in the church.

Seishin - That would be a great SNL skit, proselytizing Buddhists! I'm definitely not looking for that type of thing, but I feel like this particular group has taken on a sort of cliquey feel where you have to suck up to the right people to be in the Cool Kids Club, ha ha! Just trying to sort out if all groups tend to be divided in this way, if that's the norm in Buddhist circles or a necessary part of teaching, or no. From reading this thread my feeling is that while there may be a component of this (as duckfiasco said, algebra before calculus,) I feel more comfortable saying things go above and beyond in this particular group and maybe it's time to move on.

greg - The sitting group is Buddhist, the original class was run by the same group but was more of a secular "Mindfulness in the Workplace" experience. I'm not so uptight that I would have an issue with someone making a face at me. It's just a lot of little things - lots of name dropping (guess who I meditated / did yoga with); throwing around the word 'karma' in a sort of passive aggressive way (like if something bad happens to you or you're not as far along the path as someone else, well, must be your bad karma.)

Sorry, I don't want to sound like some gossipy busybody who's here to complain. I think this group may well be a good fit for some people and I admire their dedication to their practice - just giving myself permission to say it's ok if this is not the right place for me! It can be a little intimidating when you're new and you think "Wow, these people have so many years of experience and have done so many retreats, what do I know compared to them?"

duckfiasco, thanks for the welcome! I think a cat sangha sounds perfect!
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Re: Elitism in Buddhism?

Postby Seishin » Mon Jun 18, 2012 8:56 pm

I have met types who believe because they have done so many retreats, visited so many temples and met so many important peoples that makes them "better" than anyone else. But like I said, all that means diddley squat if one is thinking "I'm so freaking enlightened" whilst meditating. All it does is reinforce their ego. I think it's best to go with your gut when it comes to joining a group. Then, once you've settled in, you might move on or you might stay. It's all part of your journey. :smile:

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Re: Elitism in Buddhism?

Postby Ogyen » Mon Jun 18, 2012 9:10 pm

Lana - something to make you smile - there are a lot of these in the world of Buddhism...

viewtopic.php?f=63&t=8647

but to be fair, there are also a lot of humble Buddhists. As for actual Buddhas, they're pretty slim all around...

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Re: Elitism in Buddhism?

Postby Sherab Dorje » Mon Jun 18, 2012 9:37 pm

Lana_L wrote:greg - The sitting group is Buddhist, the original class was run by the same group but was more of a secular "Mindfulness in the Workplace" experience. I'm not so uptight that I would have an issue with someone making a face at me. It's just a lot of little things - lots of name dropping (guess who I meditated / did yoga with); throwing around the word 'karma' in a sort of passive aggressive way (like if something bad happens to you or you're not as far along the path as someone else, well, must be your bad karma.)
Yes, well, lots of groups go by the label Buddhist but few actually are. What is the tradition/lineage? Anyway, it's quite simple my dear Lana_L, take the good stuff and leave the bad stuff alone. If there are no other options for group practice learn what you need and leave aside the rest of the nastiness. You can only be responsible for your behaviour/attitude and a little patience may actually bring more benefit than you imagine. I am sure that you will possibly find somebody else in the group that you can connect with. That'll make it a lot easier. Just remember you are there mainly for the teachings and practice not for the social element (are you?).
:namaste:
"When one is not in accord with the true view
Meditation and conduct become delusion,
One will not attain the real result
One will be like a blind man who has no eyes."
Naropa - Summary of the View from The Eight Doha Treasures
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Re: Elitism in Buddhism?

Postby Blue Garuda » Mon Jun 18, 2012 9:47 pm

gregkavarnos wrote:
Lana_L wrote:greg - The sitting group is Buddhist, the original class was run by the same group but was more of a secular "Mindfulness in the Workplace" experience. I'm not so uptight that I would have an issue with someone making a face at me. It's just a lot of little things - lots of name dropping (guess who I meditated / did yoga with); throwing around the word 'karma' in a sort of passive aggressive way (like if something bad happens to you or you're not as far along the path as someone else, well, must be your bad karma.)
Yes, well, lots of groups go by the label Buddhist but few actually are. What is the tradition/lineage? Anyway, it's quite simple my dear Lana_L, take the good stuff and leave the bad stuff alone. If there are no other options for group practice learn what you need and leave aside the rest of the nastiness. You can only be responsible for your behaviour/attitude and a little patience may actually bring more benefit than you imagine. I am sure that you will possibly find somebody else in the group that you can connect with. That'll make it a lot easier. Just remember you are there mainly for the teachings and practice not for the social element (are you?).
:namaste:


In a world where school teachers are judged by the performance of their pupils, it is amazing that in a Buddhist group the teachers sometimes seem to attribute lack of progress to the student's own failings or the ripening of previous negative karma.

I don;t have a good feeling about this group, based on the description - I would look elsewhere.
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Re: Elitism in Buddhism?

Postby underthetree » Mon Jun 18, 2012 10:09 pm

I feel very much the same way that you do, but I haven't let it get in the way of my practice too much. Partly because I'm one of those "I wouldn't want to be a member of any club that would want me as a member" type of people, partly because I don't like the social component, partly because I find I can't really meditate in a group. I don't find I miss the company, just the advice and the teachings. And it seems like an unfair paradox, but there are a lot of feel-bad things about a lot of supposedly feel-good movements.

Importantly, of course, Buddhism isn't a feel-good movement.

If I could presume to give you advice, it would be to find out where exactly (if at all) you connect with Buddhism. I know it sounds silly, but go into a bookstore that has a good stock of Buddhist literature. Browse it a lot and often. See what attracts you and what doesn't. Might be Theravada, might be Zen. When you buy a book, what is it? When you think of 'Buddha,' who is it? Are you attracted to the imagery? To the scriptures? To Mahayana, or Tantra? Spend time browsing through places like the Rubin Museum site (http://www.himalayanart.org/). For me it has always been a certain deity and a certain group of teachers (the Mahasiddhas). For you it will be... whoever it is for you.

Find a place within yourself where you can start a practice that feels good to you, that feels comfortable. That feels like home when you sit with it. In the end it's deeply personal. The teacher will appear when the teacher is needed... At least, that's what I'm still telling myself!

Good luck!
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Re: Elitism in Buddhism?

Postby Lana_L » Mon Jun 18, 2012 11:27 pm

Thanks all. Hilarious video, I love silly stuff like that!

greg, I see you point, but at this point the social aspect is why I'm in a group setting rather than meditating at home alone - I don't mean mindless chit chat, of course, but asking questions, sharing thoughts, getting the insight of the more experienced, and so on. I don't know enough at this point to know the good from the bad, so I don't necessarily know what to look for in a helpful or experienced guide.

Blue Garuda - Yes, the negative karma aspect is obviously entirely new to me so I was surprised by this. I understand the idea of karma is very central to Buddhism, but I want to learn how to gracefully walk that line where it doesn't turn into a "blame the victim" scenario - compassion and helping others, from what I understand, is also extremely central. That's why I feel like it's important to have good guides at this point (or study independently) This site looks like a great resource as well.

underthetree, thanks for the advice. I did sort of just wander into the first Buddhist meetup I found, it's probably no surprise it wasn't a perfect fit! It's been enough to help me understand that this is the path I want to follow, however, and that was incredibly valuable.
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Re: Elitism in Buddhism?

Postby Ogyen » Tue Jun 19, 2012 2:29 am

Lana_L wrote:Thanks all. Hilarious video, I love silly stuff like that!

greg, I see you point, but at this point the social aspect is why I'm in a group setting rather than meditating at home alone - I don't mean mindless chit chat, of course, but asking questions, sharing thoughts, getting the insight of the more experienced, and so on. I don't know enough at this point to know the good from the bad, so I don't necessarily know what to look for in a helpful or experienced guide.

Blue Garuda - Yes, the negative karma aspect is obviously entirely new to me so I was surprised by this. I understand the idea of karma is very central to Buddhism, but I want to learn how to gracefully walk that line where it doesn't turn into a "blame the victim" scenario - compassion and helping others, from what I understand, is also extremely central. That's why I feel like it's important to have good guides at this point (or study independently) This site looks like a great resource as well.

underthetree, thanks for the advice. I did sort of just wander into the first Buddhist meetup I found, it's probably no surprise it wasn't a perfect fit! It's been enough to help me understand that this is the path I want to follow, however, and that was incredibly valuable.



It can take a long time to find the 'fit' for what tunes to you. Or it can happen the first time too. No matter what, keep asking questions, stay curious. It's key, don't have to take anyone's word for it, verify for yourself what is or isn't true.. after all, the journey is YOURS alone. :cheers:
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Re: Elitism in Buddhism?

Postby Tree » Tue Jun 19, 2012 3:14 pm

When Buddhist groups are going good, they are very good.
When Buddhist groups are going bad, they are very very bad.

I've said before that the Buddhists are the only religious group on line with the honour of having their number 1 forum site collapse in a heap because of in-fighting. Have you been around Satanists? Their site is still going. Christians? Their number 1 site is still going, etc etc. Buddhists? E-Sangha is permanently closed. It is massively shameful in my opinion. :thinking:

And this is a religion that is totally focussed on actions that should present that.

This is just my opinion, and because this is a Buddhist site I'll bet you we can find 100 people to disagree with me.
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